I guess I will be doing movie reviews here and there, depending on what I’ve seen and how much it keeps begging to be written about. Much like War for the Planet of the Apes, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a movie that I haven’t been able to finalize my thoughts on ever seen I left the theater. Hopefully getting what cemented views I do have on Luc Besson’s latest writing/directing effort out there will help me see where everything lies.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one of the most audacious movie experiences I have had in a while – in a non-drama capacity. That should be evident right from the start with that title. It’s such a bold, uncompromising, and unapologetic way to title a movie. It hearkens back to older, more pulpy, storytelling in it’s way – without the half-measure of using a colon to lessen the effect. Honestly, the only other franchise that I can say does the same is the Planet of the Apes series, but even that was going to get rid of the “Planet of the” bit before deciding not to – ie. “Rise of the Apes”. Knowing Luc Besson there was never any doubt this style of title was always going to be in the cards, he really goes all in with ideas – and this has been prevalent throughout his sci-fi efforts from the very start.
Why’d I spend so much time going into so much thoughts about the damn title? It’s because everything said above could be applied to the movie itself. The title is, in essence, a rather complete summation of the mood/tone/experience of watching the film. It’s not a smartly written, clever, or overall very tactful movie, not in the least, but it is, well, “bold, uncompromising, unapologetic” and most of all – very blunt. The plot, the action, the characters, and the dialogue are all so charged and each pitted against each other or else be subsumed by the others. This is both what makes the movie so entertaining, but also what creates some rather indefensible aspects of its overall construction. Again, Besson isn’t out there to make a film that is what we would call “intelligent” – so when people call it “dumb”…one can only say “yes, yes it is”.
But the defining factor here is that Valerian is that Valerian is one of the movies that excels at being both dumb and entertaining. That’s the key difference between this and other dumb movies like Battleship or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – is that the latter two were both really under-thought and underwritten, but were boring to boot. You need both, because when you have both then you’ve created an experience both visually and comedically entertaining that it might stand a chance at engaging in a very odd way. How can we be swept up in the ride toward the resolution of the plot if the movie is deciding to stall time by having pointless talking scenes or shoving in meandering characterizations that avail to nothing?
Valerian, for all of it’s flaws, doesn’t deal in such complexities – and that is to its benefit. If it did then it would have to back those up with actual scenes of trying at development and nuance, which would detract from the overall enthusiastic and energetic spectacle. The movie gives you the basics of everything (the leads, the conflicts, the backstory) that you need to know before it rushes off – and because everything is kept so simplistic it never really needs to stop. In fact, the only time it does is actually one of the worst instances of the movie because, by virtue, the movie isn’t equipped to handle it and didn’t prepare the scene in anyway. All of the other conflicts and dynamics are kept so linear that they can be tied up in nice bows while accentuating a rather grand finish. Are they really well thought out when put to scrutiny? No, not really, but this movie works because it purposefully makes them aides to the energy rather than the opposite.
Where this all falters, and it does, is the manner of the dialogue and of the reading of scenes due to writing and acting. While things are kept simplistic a lot of the dialogue is incredibly unnatural at points. The intent of such exchanges is good, and keep up the momentum, but the content could have used some brushing up. This was probably something that was noticed in post-production but too late to fix – as in one instance you can see someone mouth the end of a punchline – but it was messily dubbed into an arguably better joke. A once over of the script could have done wonders. As for the acting – it’s really a matter of the casting and the various scenarios.
Luc Besson reimagines the rather classic swashbuckling, square jawed, heroic Valerian into a rather vain and self-centered barely-hero. This is a version that I think Dane Dehaan was rather well-cast as, in that vein, because he has an unnatural swagger to him and his facial expressions definitely capture the more egotistical moments. Cara Delevingne does her best in her role, which is probably the best one she’s been in, as his more stoic, straight-man, counterpart. What cracks appear come to the forefront when they have to go beyond these archetypes, namely more weighty moments of drama and emotion. I’ve heard that the two have no chemistry – which isn’t exactly true. They have some, but the characters are written as near the end of their extended courtship – a dynamic they cannot pull off in the time and writing provided. Other than the the only other large role I can criticize is Rihanna’s supporting role – she’s so flat in her readings that it makes the already perilously close to “incongruously dimensional” dramatic scene fall flat because she’s just so bad.
Overall though, everything up to a main moral message is kept so straight forward and unadorned that it helps it from becoming preachy. Like nice, easy going sci-fi, the relevancy or import of the moral is overshadowed by the interesting ideas around it. There but not necessary to enjoy the experience at hand. Is this a great movie? No. Is it a movie where everything will make sense and be logical? No and no. Yet that is not essential to the experience and the intent of this movie – for what it does it hits closer near the mark than movies that shoot for the stars and are incredibly complex but ultimately fail to engage. It’s a very dumb movie, but for how dumb it is – it does so as to emphasize the fun of it all. You know, kinda like The Fifth Element, which it keeps being compared unfavorably to…when it’s so much closer than people would admit.
Overall Estimation: 7/10